As the day progressed in the Produced By Conference 2017 being held at the Twentieth Century Fox Studios, I continued to learn many facts about producing that I had not considered as either a writer or a producer.
In the seminar To Cast Or Not to Cast: Challenges and Solutions In Insuring Talent I learned things I had never thought of when preparing a project for production. Sponsored by HUB Entertainment Insurance, it featured Jody Kelley an Entertainment Underwriting Specialist of the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies: Christie Mattull– Managing Director HUB International Insurance Services ; Dr. Paula Schoen – consulting physician – Entertainment Industry Physicians; Matt Baer as President of Matt Baer Films (producer of Unbroken and Maggie ; Liz Gutierrez VP Physical Production Alcon Entertainment – Moderated by Rachel Klein – Producer/CEO Fire Starter Studios
There are many things that go on behind the closed doors of the production office that people don’t understand but they are crucial if you are going to have a successful film or TV series. One of these major considerations is the insurability of your cast and staff. A lot of things will affect this but what exactly goes into the consideration of who can be insured and what it will cost. It’s important that the producer has a good relationship and that the producer be honest with his broker because Christie Mattull says that most things can be worked out if both are open to suggestions. There are a lot of misconceptions about insurance and it’s not just health, injury or death that must be considered. Many things are not understood or considered by filmmakers.
Christie Mattull’s specialty is independent productions. “It’s important for the insurance person to like what they are doing and understand risk management.” She analyzes each script, breaking it down, figuring out the scenes. Small budgets need insurance just like larger productions but when the budget is small changes often have to be made.
One of the first things to consider is your location. Where are you filming? During the Rodney King riots one production company was forced to stop filming. Obviously they had not expected the events but it meant their location could not be used. “You have to deal with it and plan for the worst possible thing.”
If you’re not filming in the US and the location is a maybe country as Southeast Asia or South America which has a history of kidnapping or terrorism that will add sufficiently to your budget. Do you have to also consider insuring family and kids that might travel with the star? Will I have to hire extra security and police protection for the set? Will they get kidnapping coverage (K & R coverage) and what will they do if indeed a ransom is asked? These are things they need to decide beforehand. They might decide not to pay the ransom and just pull up stakes. Most people do not know what to do and need help from the insurance company and local authorities to handle this. Sometimes someone must be set in to negotiate for the ransom and get the victim back. Often advance people are sent to scout out the area and understand the relationships among the people where and what type of problems we met arise.
In remote places you often have to hire people who have experience with this and understand what is required. Blackwater protected one crew and guarded them against problems since incidents had been reported in the area. The staff learned not to go to the production site the same way every day and took lessons on how to protect themselves. The State Department might sometimes grant assistance – if you are allowed to shoot there. The tension alone can disrupt the filming.
It’s not just the actors that are at risk in situations. Even accountants can have threats against them.
What if the lead actor’s young child is kidnapped? Not only can it cause a lot of legal entanglements for the actor but for the production, as well.
Liz Gutierez talked of the film “Point Blank.” In this movie she helped cast the director and extras, there were many actors who were in stunts. They filmed in 10 different countries from India to France, Italy, South America, and Asia. In each place they had to check for things like terrorism, crime,, and kidnapping, as well as engine problems from the planes. It was also necessary to get an additional policy for everyone because of the extreme schedule which took a toll on all.
HEALTH, LIES AND PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS
The health of the actors is another major consideration. Do they have any pre-existing conditions? Is the company comfortable ensuring the actors? Insurance can be gotten for problem actors but the production company might not want to pay the added coverage needed or take the risk.
The relationship with the doctor on their team is crucial. Who will see the person and what is their experience? As the medical doctor who examines many of the cast and cast members Dr. Paula Schoen has to know what questions ask prior to approving the insurance contract. She has to know when to believe them and when to question and often reads their health history files. “I hate reading through all the charts and history but it’s important to be thorough. What will they be doing before our film starts? If they are involved in another film I need to know the other film’s location and if they are doing stunts in the other movie that might get them hurt?
John Candy was one example. He had multiple movie contracts often back to back and it was important to keep track of what his role and actions were in the film immediately before since if he becomes hurt, the new production company might not finish their movie.
“What price do you want to pay for an actor that has a drinking or drug habit – even marijuana can be a problem here, a history of DUI, or even speeding tickets and fast sports or dangerous activities? Maybe he is reported to be difficult to get along with. What if he doesn’t show up one day because of a hangover or fit?” Jody Kelley warned. “One actor became a problem with others, yet he had denied any history of temper outbursts. Nevertheless, the production company was forced to replace him at a high cost.”
Depending on the actor there can be abuse issues that may or may not be known. Is there a pending relationship breakup? Again social media will often give you hints of what is happening. It is the duty of these people who control the insurance of your cast to get all the dirt on them they can. This includes divorce proceedings and child custody hearings as well as restraining orders and any other legal matters that might come up to interrupt the actor’s life.
What have their past actions on the set’s been like and what the social media talk about them and they completed all their films without problems? Almost like detectives the insurers must understand everything they can and follow-up any rumors that relate to the actor. TMZ often has hints of events coming up and can help you evaluate a possible artist. Even if they are not truthful the producer must be aware of these. “We knew this artist and he had a ‘situation.’ What made it more awkward was I wanted to find a way to work through the problem. We made a supplemental protection warranty dealing with just that issue.”
Even if you are starting production in one state where marijuana might be legal – as California, you have to know the laws in any states you will be filming next. Even if you are just crossing state lines the local laws must be acknowledged especially since marijuana is not yet federally approved. That means actors carrying drugs on their person can be arrested and again delay the production.
One actor who worked in California and had a medical marijuana card was wanted for a show being shot in New Mexico where the drug is not legal. The insurance company chose to have an addendum for that specific problem so they would be covered if he was arrested and tested positive.
Getting the actor to admit they use marijuana can be a problem. Most ignore it despite signing an agreement not use it outside of California or in the new filming location. The doctor and production must inform them to finish their withdrawal before they leave state so a positive test will not create problems.
The world has changed a lot since the 50s. Mickey Rooney and Cary Grant even want their substance abuse were no match for some of these problems. No one really knew what was going on while they filmed on the sets.
Matt Baer often speaks to producers about their actors. One of his films received insurance but it turned out to be very costly. How do you get the answers you asked? You talk to anyone that is involved with the actor and need to have a relationship with other producers who often give you the local gossip and information about these actors. It’s one of the benefits of being in the Guild. Producers tend to look out for one another.
So how does a producer deal with an actor and his outrageous lies? There are two choices – offer it’s not going with that actor. If they really are needed than the producer must pay the extra penalty for the price of having him. One way is to limit his time on the set by arranging his scenes in a particular order. It is a risk that the insurers take on unpredictable costs and things like this they might have to deal with.
Do they have all the shots needed or any medications they may need? If they have any history of heart conditions or other physical problems as an injured back or history of concussions this is a problem the production company must be prepared to deal with. Many actors, desperate for the role, will fudge the truth about addictions, rehab and other problems. If they answer no to all the health questions, she and the broker have to investigate social media and sites like TMZ.
“Did I know the person was using drugs?” The doctor asked. No. She has no knowledge except what they actor told her and what she saw in the testing. “One actor who lied about his addiction had to repay the production company because of his hiding it.”
Dr Schoen must write down everything as it is her job to protect the insurance company. “I can’t have them caught unawares.” One actor walked into her office with 2 casts on his legs. Their personal doctor had not mentioned it because he did not understand the significance of it to the stunts and the filming. Another actor tested positive test for codeine. She was on a special diet and cookie in her system had broken down causing an unreliable test. Another said he had been at a party the night before and had had coke the night before.
She must evaluate their attitude as well as what’s in the report especially since the personal physicians often will gloss over issues that might be of importance. Often they do not understand the issues of filming in a distant location. Yet the private doctor knows things that she would not even think to ask – like a history of STD (sexually transmitted disease) which might have happened several years before.
One actor’s doctor had briefly mentioned a single instance of angina – heart pain – and she needed to follow up on that. Would any of the stunts planned for the new film cause undue stress on the actor? What about the knee he hurt last year? Will that affect this film’s stunt and time? Do they have allergies or any breathing problems? Asthma attacks in a jungle can delay a film.
If they do have a prior back or knee problem, how does that affect the stunt they will now be performing? What happens if they are hurt worse on this stunt?
Notes from personal doctors have been known to be faked – as we know happens even in politics. The supposed private physician wrote “very beautiful and healthy” despite the fact that she found high blood pressure. When Dr. Schoen tried to phone the said doctor she discovered the number was non-existent.
Christine Mattull said “I’ve never seen anyone not covered because of a pre-existing condition but the producer must look at the cost and the points as well as the relationship between the actor, the film, and the producer. A higher deductible with specifics outlined regarding a situation for the actor might be outlined. A higher deductible is often the solution for the producers who desperately want one particular actor.”
Diversity coverage – i.e. for amputee – is another issue to be faced by filmmakers. The actors must have a medical okay of their condition and it is the producer’s job to make sure that there are resources for that actor wherever they film. Sometimes that means hiring an assistant for the actor if needed and an understanding of what they need to accomplish their role. How did they get the disability? Was it the result of an accident? Were they at cause? Often the doctor will suggest the insurance company ask for extra legal liability.
Like the broker the doctor must understand what is expected of that actor in the script. Would there be any condition that would make things more difficult for them? What problems would they encounter? Can that actor really perform what is being asked? How would it affect the project if they could not do it? (Wonder Woman was pregnant when she did most of the movie.)
Liz Gutierrez asks the filmmakers to consider: “Will it be difficult for the production company to cover the cost for a “babysitter”? Have they put this in their budget? Sometimes it comes down to negotiating with the producer of what he really needs and wants. Do they need to do random drug testing daily? And if the test is positive what will be the result if the actor slips up?” In one case where he had not planned for it, the producer ended up with a huge loss.
One actor did not show up on the first day of shooting because he’d been hospitalized after a fight. The insurance company tried to get the information but the hospital used the privacy law – HIPAA – and refused to give information –which they later learned from TMZ!
One of the ways some producers have handled things in the past was to hold back the actor’s salary until the job was finished. This might work if the actor has a drug or alcohol problem and is known to disappear on binges with his salary in his hand and the job unfinished.
As the studio doctor, Dr. Schoen must try to find out what really happened.
Accident and injury in remote places especially if they were doing stunts also need to be considered. They would prefer that the actors do not do their own stunts but sometimes it is difficult to stop them. If the actor is injured often the producer is forced to find a different actor. Other actors and crew must be paid even when your star is not acting.
The companies will ensure most people at a reasonable cost but it is harder to ensure the stunt people because of the high risk. Brokers required a detailed list of everything that would be done in the stunt, every action that will be taken, every prop that is needed or might be broken. They need to know who the stunt director is and often ask the producer to add a Worker’s Compensation policy to their insurance.
Christie Mattull explained that “Normally we don’t ensure stunt people. Is the actor doing the stunt himself? In that case, often we need to negotiate a higher deductible since if something happens it will often shut down production and cost both us and the production more money.”
The brokers need to know who the actors are and their athletic training, if any, as well as those of the stunt performers. How proficient are they? It’s preferred that actors do not perform their own stunts, but often the more prominent the actors like to be macho and will insist as Tom Cruise did recently – and was injured. Often extra protection is required for the actors especially those who tend to be reckless.
It’s the producer’s responsibility to understand each and every stunt – not only who is performing, but what the risks are for those involved and for the film. Then they need to discuss it all with the broker to see if they will cover it. Insurers sometimes will insist that there be a doctor on the set and will point out how it will bite the film in the back if this is not done. “Even comedy films have to be checked for stunts and be highly insured since many have physical skits where people can be hurt.”
What are the schedules of the stunts and who is involved? If the actor himself insists on doing the stunt what will happen if he is injured? The insurance company needs to be assured of the actor’s training to accomplish that stunt.
The broker must carefully read through the script and note any possibilities of problems that might arise in timing in stunts and even in the weather conditions that might occur and location. How many days does each actor need to be on the set? Can the producer cut that time in half?
“We can usually find a solution for everything but sometimes it takes time,” says Christine Mattull who dissects the script in minute detail. “I ask for all the production information as to props for each stunt, go on the site of the set and observe what obstacles might confront the performers.” She talked about a car crash in the Congo and had to convince the producer that CGI was the safer way to do it. “Even with CGI I asked the actors and stunt performers’ questions including the exact movements for each stunt and I try to find out if there is a safer way of doing this action.”
Jody Kelley added that the stunt must be broken down into each of the critical actions. New coverage must be written for any new events or scenes that come up.
Another factor to consider – is health insurance needed for the actor’s family? Many every day people fail to consider health insurance when they travel but for productions it is crucial. The producer might only protect the actor and not the family or only offer limited protection for other than the actor.
However, if a family member falls ill, or if the pregnant wife goes into premature labor, often the actor cannot or will not perform. Filmmakers need to decide if they will be shut down or not. How much extra this cost? It’s important to consider this in the budget. They have to know if there are provisions at the location that can handle this emergency.
The insurance must protect the production if it happens.
Travel insurance is another thing they have to worry about especially when 20 people have to be insured as well as the air and watercraft while actors are being transferred to each location. And if the actors are bringing their families, these are more who must be covered. The producer has to decide how much he will cover them or if the families have to buy their own.
Producers must learn to think out of the box.
Jody Kelley says producers often don’t think of these things or the costs of the flight to various locations and living expenses as well as health insurance while on set. They also have to consider other items as hospital and medical provisions in the area.
Another thing to consider in your script is if there is any animal use. Horse rental can be costly as well dealing with other animals. Is there the possibility of death or injury in any of the planned stunts? Any of these can cause you to lose money in your production budget and delay the film. Losses can amount up from 100,000 to over 20 million and might cripple the production. Think about how long you might have to delay the filming. Can you afford this? Most filmmakers do not consider these “miscellaneous costs” into their budget.
For Liz Gutierrez it’s a matter of studying the production schedule. How many shots do they plan to accomplish that day? Is that realistic? Often producers have fantasies at how quickly a scene can be shot. Liz checks the set and judges the locations. If there are too many scenes planned and too many locations or set ups actors and crew tired. That makes for more mistakes. “Of course budget is always a consideration. A low budget film cannot always afford to have professional stunt people, yet we have to protect the actors and our investment in the film.”
Another factor Liz Gutierrez often considers is the start date for the film and will check IMDB – International Movie Data Base – about what each actor has done before. What were their last few films? Did the actor do stunts in them? Does the actor really have the expertise to do that stunt? Many think they but do not. Even established stunt people get hurt – look at the recent Walking Dead death.
LEVELS OF CAST
Ms. Mattull went on to explain some of the different levels of cast. The essential actors are those needed full time for the story and shooting time. If they are not cleared medically, the project might have to be aborted should anything happen. Extras must also be considered even though they are a low level and can be replaced if needed.
Another major issue can be weapons used on the film since often a special insurance, visas and other paperwork are
required especially if traveling overseas…even if the gun is fake. This can be a big problem and producers will not be covered if they do not mention the weapon beforehand.
ERRORS AND OMISSIONS
Matt Baer mentioned E and O – errors and omissions – which many producers forget about. This is often used on made-for-TV shows and can be incredibly defining. Films have been stalled in production if things are written wrong. This includes making sure you have the complete rights to any story that even has a hint of truth to it. This must be obtained before hand and not on the backend and most producers forget about this because they are in love with the story. “Close it all up before you start to film!”
A film he made years ago told about a murder. The man wanted to stop the story but Mr.Baer found out that since the man was in jail many rights are compromised. Did anyone have any rights to stop the movie? He worried that he could be sued by the victim’s estate if they did not like the story. They really did not have rights because everything he used was in public domain but in the end he was forced to use a watered down true story.
These are only a few of the factors that must be considered in the budget which many producers forget as they read an exciting script.
Christine Mattull says – “We must decide what the bottom line is. What will the cost be to us if the filming stops? If you have allotted 20 days for your shoot you need every day that you can for filming.
“So it’s important for productions people to think about the brokers while there during the script and producing beforehand. Ask them questions. They will pick up the phone and talk with you and work out any problems. The stupid question is one you don’t ask them to find out later that something is not covered. ”
Stay tuned for the last article…. for more information about next years conference check with the PGA.